Upon introduction, you can't help but take note of Catherine Marion's gentle demeanor and kind nature – a woman so sweet and soft-spoken that you probably wouldn't guess that the owner of Jemily fine jewelry is also a seasoned corporate finance attorney. But it was her rigorous journey as a finance attorney that brought Catherine to the realization that she was meant to design the most precious of personal ornaments and start her own business. Jemily, which is named after Catherine's two daughters – Emily and Jennifer, is a New York based fine jewelry brand known for it's timeless pieces with intricate designs and touches of colorful stones.
Catherine's love for jewelry first developed during her adolescent years as she inherited her grandmother's jewelry collection and began to possess an appreciation for the craftsmanship of intricate designs and precious stones and metals. Catherine explains that she has never been loyal to one specific jewelry brand just that her love for the art of jewelry runs deep and has always held a special spot in her life. This spot was impactful, however, that it eventually lead to a drastic and courageous career change.
For Catherine, 2004 marked her eleventh year as a corporate finance attorney in New York City, eleven long years of sleepless nights, 18+ hour work days and missing out the day to day 'mommy duties' during her two daughters' childhood. Catherine found herself employing three nannies just to be able to take care of her children while she and her husband evolved in their careers. But it was at that time that the working mother decided that in addition to her already hectic life, that she would enroll in night classes at F.I.T. for jewelry design. So, every Friday and Saturday night, Catherine took what was left of her free time and attended her jewelry design classes at F.I.T.'s Chelsea campus, and that is when her love longtime love for jewelry finally came full circle. "It just felt right. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing." Says Catherine.
The following year, with two years left to go in her jewelry design program at F.I.T, Catherine decided to leave her full-time position in corporate finance to pursue what it was that she felt she should be doing – designing jewelry. Fast forward to 2012 and that is when her change of career paths finally came to fruition and she started Jemily.
Catherine Marion's Jemily is a completely self-funded business with a price point that ranges from $400 to $6,000 and according to the designer, her target market is a confident woman anywhere from 28 – 50 years old who can and chooses to purchase her own jewelry. With a brand specifically targeted at women and being a woman and independent business owner herself, Catherine does not take her responsibility to empowering women lightly.
For those who have struggled to zip up the back of a dress or clasp a necklace for you, Catherine is also thinking of you. With the goal of keeping her clients to be as independent as possible, Catherine keeps this in mind when she is designing her collections. "[Our goal] is to make user friendly jewelry, where you don't have to rely on anybody else to help with trying it on." To wit, all of Jemily's clasps are made so that the client can put it on without the help of a significant other. Nothing empowers women quite like granting them the independence to put on their own jewelry with ease.
Over the last five years, Jemily's classic, feminine designs have landed in over a dozen independently-owned stores nationwide while the sales and collections produced continue to grow. Ironically for the Chicago native, Chicago is the city where the brand experiences the highest volume of sales. Jemily is strictly wholesale and while Catherine designs the jewelry she employs two in-house sales associates to conduct the wholesale relationships and to complete their three-woman show.
Catherine produces around two collections a year and explains that intricate types of architecture and nature are her constant inspirations. On a personal level, Catherine says she prefers using natural, colored stones, which can be seen throughout her collections, despite them often being harder to sell. Regardless, when designing her collections, Catherine always aims to create alluring pieces that have thought and meaning behind them. "I feel it's my job to show things that nature made, [that] God made – to showcase these creations," explains the designer. Catherine fulfills these self assigned duties by using crystals, stones and diamonds from all over the earth to create her pieces. She gets her diamonds from Antwerp, Belgium and has them cut in Israel and makes it a priority to guarantee conflict-free diamonds.
Catherine's love for nature's finest jewels is shown not only in her designs, but through her passion for jewelry making. "I wish I could give it away," says Catherine. "If I broke even, I would be okay." But unfortunately, the cost of jewelry making calls for a price tag that is a bit more expensive than $0. Regardless, it is clear that receiving an income from her business is no comparison to the feeling of finally doing what she loves every single day.
When asked about the future of Jemily, Catherine explains that continuing to expand and create new lines is her number one priority. Catherine's selfless ways and ability to create beautiful, unique pieces for the most confident of women, especially in today's political climate, is most definitely empowering.
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
Ways and Instagram.
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
First shut alarm off, then head to yoga.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
5. What is your spirit animal?
6. What is your life motto?
I aim to have a wake like my grandmother's, there were so many people that stopped by just to tell of all of the things that she did for them.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?
9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Wifi, Kindle, Purell.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."